Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XXX
Three months before, George Dawkins had made his first visit to a gambling house. At first, he had entered only from curiosity. He watched the play with an interest which gradually deepened, until he was easily persuaded to try his own luck. The stakes were small, but fortune favored him, and he came out some dollars richer than he entered. It would have been fortunate for him if he had failed. As it was, his good fortune encouraged him to another visit. This time he was less fortunate, but his gains about balanced his losses, so that he came out even. On the next occasion he left off with empty pockets. So it went on until at length he fell into the hands of Duval, who had no scruple in fleecing him to as great an extent as he could be induced to go.
George Dawkins's reflections were not of the most cheerful character as, leaving Duval, he slowly pursued his way homeward. He felt that he had fallen into the power of an unscrupulous villain, who would have no mercy upon him. He execrated his own folly, without which all the machination of Duval would have been without effect.
The question now, however, was, to raise the money. He knew of no one to whom he could apply except his father, nor did he have much hope from that quarter. Still, he would make the effort.
Reaching home he found his father seated in the library. He looked up from the evening paper as George entered.
"Only half-past nine," he said, with an air of sarcasm. "You spend your evenings out so systematically that your early return surprises me. How is it? Has the theater begun to lose its charm!"
There was no great sympathy between father and son, and if either felt affection for the other, it was never manifested. Mutual recrimination was the rule between them, and George would now have made an angry answer but that he had a favor to ask, and felt it politic to be conciliatory.
"If I had supposed you cared for my society, sir, I would have remained at home oftener."
"Umph!" was the only reply elicited from his father.
"However, there was a good reason for my not going to the theater to-night."
"I had no money."
"Your explanation is quite satisfactory," said his father, with a slight sneer. "I sympathize in your disappointment."
"There is no occasion, sir," said George, good humoredly, for him. "I had no great desire to go."
Dawkins took down a book from the library and tried to read, but without much success. His thoughts continually recurred to his pecuniary embarrassments, and the debt which he owed to Duval seemed to hang like a millstone around his neck. How should he approach his father on the subject? In his present humor he feared he would have little chance.
As his father laid down the newspaper Dawkins said, "Wouldn't you like a game of checkers, sir?"
This, as he well knew, was a favorite game with his father.
"I don't know but I should," said Mr. Dawkins, more graciously than was his wont.
The checker-board was brought, and the two commenced playing. Three games were played all of which his father won. This appeared to put him in a good humor, for as the two ceased playing, he drew a ten-dollar-bill from his pocket-book, and handed to his son, with the remark, "There, George, I don't want you to be penniless. You are a little extravagant, though, I think. Your pay from Mr. Danforth ought to keep you in spending money."
"Yes, sir, I have been rather extravagant, but I am going to reform."
"I am very glad to hear it."
"I wish, sir," said George a moment afterwards," that you would allow me to buy my own clothes."
"I've no sort of an objection, I am sure. You select them now, don't you?"
"Yes, sir, but I mean to suggest that you should make me an allowance for that purpose, --about as much as it costs now,--and give me the money to spend where I please."
Mr. Dawkins looked sharply at his son.
"The result would probably be," he said, "that the money would be expended in other ways, and I should have to pay for the clothes twice over."
Dawkins would have indignantly disclaimed this, if he had not felt that he was not altogether sincere in the request he had made.
"No," continued his father, "I don't like the arrangement you propose. When you need clothing you can go to my tailor and order it, of course not exceeding reasonable limits."
"But," said Dawkins, desperately, "I don't like Bradshaw's style of making clothes. I would prefer trying some other tailor."
"What fault have you to find with Bradshaw? Is he not one of the most fashionable tailors in the city?"
"Yes, sir, I suppose so, but----"
"Come, sir, you are growing altogether too particular. All your garments set well, so far as I can judge."
"Yes, sir, but one likes a change sometimes," persisted George, a little embarrassed for further objections.
"Well," said Mr. Dawkins, after a pause, "If you are so strongly bent upon a new tailor, select one, and order what you need. You can tell him to send in his bill to me."
"Thank you sir," said his son, by no means pleased at the manner in which his request had been granted. He saw that it would in no manner promote the plan which he had in view, since it would give him no command of the ready money. It is hardly necessary to say that his alleged dissatisfaction with his father's tailor had all been trumped up for the occasion, and would never have been thought of but for the present emergency.
"What shall I do!" thought Dawkins, in perplexity, as he slowly undressed himself and retired to bed.
The only true course, undoubtedly, was to confess all to his father, to incur the storm of reproaches which would have followed as the just penalty of his transgression, and then the haunting fear of discovery would have been once and forever removed. But Dawkins was not brave enough for this. He thought only of escaping from his present difficulty without his father's knowledge.
He rose the next morning with the burden of care still weighing upon him. In the evening the thought occurred to him that he might retrieve his losses where he had incurred them, and again he bent his steps to the gambling house. He risked five dollars, being one-half of what he had. This was lost. Desperately he hazarded the remaining five dollars, and lost again.
With a muttered oath he sprang to his feet, and left the brilliant room, more gloomy and discouraged than ever. He was as badly off as before, and penniless beside. He would have finished the evening at the theater, but his recent loss prevented that. He lounged about the streets till it was time to go to bed, and then went home in a very unsatisfactory state of mind.
A day or two after, he met on Broadway the man whom of all others he would gladly have avoided.
"Aha, my friend, I am glad to meet you," said Duval, for it was he.
Dawkins muttered something unintelligible, and would have hurried on, but Duval detained him.
"Why are you in such a hurry, my friend?" he said.
"Business," returned Dawkins, shortly.
"That reminds me of the little business affair between us, mon ami. Have you got any money for me?"
"Not yet! It is three days since we saw each other. Could you not do something in three days?"
"I told you I required a week," said Dawkins, roughly, "Let go my arm. I tell you I am in haste."
"Very well, mon ami," said Duval, slowly relinquishing his hold, "take care that you do not forget. There are four days more to the week."
Dawkins hurried on feeling very uncomfortable. He was quite aware that four days hence he would be as unprepared to encounter the Frenchman as now. Still, something might happen.
Something, unfortunately, did happen.
The next day Mr. Danforth was counting a roll of bills which had been just paid in, when he was unexpectedly called out of the counting-room. He unguardedly left the bills upon his own desk. Dawkins saw them lying there. The thought flashed upon him, "There lies what will relieve me from all my embarrassment."
Allowing himself scarcely a minute to think, he took from the roll four fifty dollar notes, thrust one into the pocket of Paul's overcoat, which hung up in the office, drew off his right boot and slipped the other three into the bottom of it, and put it on again. He then nervously resumed his place at his desk. A moment afterwards, Paul, who had been to the post-office, entered with letters which he carried into the inner office and deposited on Mr. Danforth's desk. He observed the roll of bills, and thought his employer careless in leaving so much money exposed, but said nothing on the subject to Dawkins, between whom and himself there was little communication.